Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Golden Girl

Faruqi, Reem. Golden Girl
February 22nd 2022 by HarperCollins 
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Aafiyah (AH-fee-YAH) has a comfortable life in an Atlanta suburb. Her father works in the aviation industry, so the family, which includes her mother and toddler brother, have gone on many trips, always flying first class. Aafiyah's best friend, Zaina, lives just down the street, and since they are both of Pakistani descent, spend a lot of time together at family events. Zaina has matured more quickly, and has older sisters who teach her about makeup and how to dress, and Aafiyah is a bit jealous. Aafiyah has two secrets; she is hard of hearing in one ear, and she has a compulsion to "borrow" items from people, especially Zaina. It could be something small, like a lip gloss, or something more important, like a prism from a teacher's desk. She hasn't been caught, and myriad emotions attend her stealing. When the family travels to Pakistan to bring back her grandfather so that he can get chemotherapy in Atlanta, Aafiyah enjoys being in touch with her extended family. However, when they go home, the father is detained on charges of embezzlement. Right before the family left, he had to fire some employees, who are now wrongfully accusing him. Aafiyah, her mother, brother, and grandfather make it back to Atlanta and try to settle in to a routine, getting the grandfather's chemotherapy. Aafiyah plays tennis, but it can be hard to concentrate with everything going on. Her mother starts working and pawns some jewelry, her father's court case gets delayed, and the bills pile up. Aafiyah's urge to steal things now has even more urgency, and when Zaina's sister gets married and Aafiyah sees how much gold jewelry she has, she hatches an ill-considered plan to help out her family and get her father back home. 

The author's note at the end of the book explains why there are so many things going on in Aafiyah's world: they are all reflective of things that have happened to her. There are relatively few books with children playing tennis, and since Ms. Faruqi played when she was young, this is a great addition. The moderate hearing loss is also interesting. Having grandparents who have health issues is always a timely inclusion in a middle grade book, and the father's arrest took me by surprise. Since I had a friend in middle school whose father actually did embezzle money and I saw the effects on her family, this was quite the interesting sub plot, and many young readers will understand the change in financial circumstances. The number one reason to pick up this book, however, is Aafiyah's kleptomania. 

Aside from Eyerly's 1984 Angel Baker, Thief and Swartz's 2019 Give and Take, I can't think of other books that address stealing quite this well. The underlying reasons and the emotional connections make Aafiyah'sactions understandable, even if they aren't right. 

The verse format moves quickly, and is beautifully written, but does leave out many details that would be helpful in understanding the many issues in play. 

Readers who enjoy problem novels with a more constructive and upbeat feel, like Galante's Strays Like Us, Hitchcock and Senzai's Flying Over Water, Medina's Merci Su├írez Changes Gears or Bauer's Almost Home will feel invested in Aafiyah's problems and enjoy the cultural connections that emerge from this story of personal growth amidst family problems. 

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